AP PHOTOS: Afghan women lawmakers fight for rights

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women rarely left their home.

When they did venture beyond their four walls, they wafted through crowded markets covered from head to toe in the all-encompassing burqa. While most women in conservative Afghanistan may still wear the burqa, today's Afghan woman has choices she didn't have during the Taliban rule that lasted from the mid-1990s to 2001 — like running for parliament.

In the last elections in 2010, 69 women won seats in Afghanistan's 249-seat parliament. The next parliamentary vote will be held in 2015, but first are the April 5 presidential and provincial council elections.

Under Afghan law, 20 percent of council member seats are reserved for women, who are also figuring prominently in presidential campaigns. Three presidential hopefuls have taken the bold step of choosing a woman as a running mate, including one of the front-runners.

Habiba Danish, a legislator from northern Takhar province, said she was the top vote getter in her province in the last parliamentary polls. Throughout the country, including in the south and the east where the hard-line Taliban are waging a stubborn insurgency, women have been elected to parliament.

"In our Parliament we have 69 women, that is a large number, bigger even than European parliaments," said Hamida Ahmadzai, who represents Afghanistan's nomadic Kuchi tribes. Saima Khogyani, a lawmaker from eastern Nangarhar province, where Taliban routinely stage violent attacks to warn voters away from the polls, says she is not afraid.

"We have our rights and we have our free speech now," she said. "The men in Parliament might not always listen to us, but we can say whatever we want." Here is a selection of portraits of women lawmakers by Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus.

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